Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) is a grant intended to cover the extra costs of having a disability, long-term illness, mental health condition, or specific learning difficulty such as an autistic spectrum condition, dyslexia or dyspraxia. This activity explains DSA and gives you a step by step guide when applying for a DSA.
NB: We recognise that not everyone who has an autistic spectrum condition would use the word ‘disabled’ about themselves. This includes a lot of the students we spoke to in our surveys. However, Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) is the main way to access support for your study needs at the start of your course and beyond, so it is important to know all about it.
DSA is a government fund and allocated independently of UCS. Unfortunately, one of the criticisms students have of the DSA is that the application process is quite long and can be complex. However, students who receive the DSA usually say how well it has supported their studies and time at University – so it is worth persevering. Because the DSA process is quite lengthy we always recommend that you apply early to avoid any delays in getting the support that you need.
DSA is not usually paid directly to the student. Instead, the money goes directly to the providers of the support recommended for you, whether that is support workers or software or equipment. The main exception would be if you are entitled to funding for ‘consumables’ like the cost of printing, as some students need to print more than the average student in order to meet their study needs. In that case, you pay yourself for these things and keep the receipts and the money would be paid back into your bank account later.
Autistic students who claim DSA are less likely to drop out of university and more likely to achieve their full potential.
How could this affect me?
Whether or not you received or felt you needed support during school or college, university life is very different from the type of study you have been used to and getting the right support in place can make your life a lot easier.
DSA is intended to reduce the barriers to learning for students who have disabilities, long-term health conditions, mental health conditions and specific learning difficulties like autism, dyslexia and ADHD. Students in our Autism&Uni surveys who told the university about their autism and got support early in their course were more likely to enjoy their time at university and graduate with good grades than those who didn’t get any support.
The timing of the support is important too – students who had all their support in place before the end of the first term struggled a lot less than those who had to wait. This means applying for DSA as early as you can is a very good idea – it doesn’t matter if the university you end up going to changes. You can apply later in your course, too, even if you haven’t told the university about your autism yet. You can also ask for a review of your support if you find your needs have changed during your course or it’s not really working for you.
What to do next?
Applying for DSA - step by step
- To receive DSA, you need to apply and this is usually done online. If you have a Student Loan, or are in the process of applying for one, you can apply for a DSA through your student finance account. If you are self-funding, or haven’t applied for your Student Loan yet you can still apply for DSA. The online application form can be found here: Help if you’re a student with a learning difficulty, health problem or disability: How to apply – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- If you find online applications difficult you can also use a paper form and send it to the DSA. The form can be found here; Student finance forms – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- You will need to attach ‘evidence’ to your application- this is usually a report from a medical practitioner, psychologist or suitably qualified specialist teacher. This ‘evidence’ needs to provide a ‘diagnosis’ of your difficulty.
- If you are not applying for a Student Loan, but have applied for a place at UCS and you are intending to study here, UCS has a section of the form which they need to complete after you have filled your section in. Forms can be emailed to the HE Learning Support Team (HELearningSupport@sparsholt.ac.uk) and we will forward them to the correct department for signing. Alternatively, you can send them to University Centre Sparsholt by post for the attention of the Admissions team.
- Student Finance England (or SAAS if you are from Scotland, Student Finance Wales from Wales or Student Finance NI from Northern Ireland) will respond to tell you whether or not you are eligible for DSA. This may be delayed if they need any more evidence of your condition(s), but they will let you know.
- If you are eligible, you will receive a letter (known as a DSA1) telling you to book a Study Needs Assessment, and some information on how to do this. The Study Needs Assessment is the process that leads to decisions about what support DSA will fund for you, as every student is different and has individual study needs. The article What is the Study Needs Assessment? provides you with more information about this process and support to help you prepare for it.